City officials say they’re concerned that the Dominick’s supermarket in the Evanston Plaza could disappear within the next several years. But would that leave Evanston with a food desert, as one alderman suggested?

When Evanston aldermen last month approved a tax increment finance district for the Dempster Plaza shopping center, one of the driving forces was concern that the Dominick’s supermarket in the plaza might not renew its lease at the end of the decade.

City officials figured they needed a pool of money to help find a different anchor tenant for the plaza if that were to happen.

And that led Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, to speculate that if Dominick’s left and wasn’t replaced with another food store, Evanston could have a food desert on its west side.

So, what’s a food desert? And would Evanston have one if the Dempster-Dodge Dominick’s shut down?

Anybody can call anything they want a food desert, of course, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture has tried to come up with a formal definition.

It says that to be a food desert a census tract first has to have at least 20 percent of its residents living in poverty. That’s presumably because poor people have less access to cars and thus are less likely to be able to easily travel to food store outside the immediate neighborhood.

Based on the latest census-tract-level data we could find, from the American Community Survey for the period 2005-2009, only one census tract in Evanston meets that standard.

That’s tract 8093, in what’s sometimes referred to as the student ghetto west of the Northwestern University campus. That tract, bounded by Sherman Avenue, Emerson Street, Green Bay Road, the North Shore channel and Central Street, has a poverty rate of 27.6 percent.

Percentage of persons living in poverty, by census tract. American Community Survey 2005-09. Map from

The second part of the USDA definition says, and here we’re simplifying a bit, that if more than a third of the people in the low-income census tract live more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store, then it’s a food desert.

Using that definition, the USDA says there currently are no food deserts in Evanston. That’s because residents of the only tract with enough poverty are close enough to either the Dominick’s on Green Bay Road or the Whole Foods downtown to have their market needs met.

Since Evanston’s west side doesn’t have high enough poverty levels to meet the USDA definition, closing Dominck’s at the plaza wouldn’t turn it into a food desert by the USDA definition.

View Evanston food stores in a larger map

Map of food store locations in Evanston.

But as you can see from the map of where food stores are located in Evanston, it would mean a longer trip to the store for many residents living on the west side if Dominick’s closed and wasn’t replaced..

Evanston has been adding new food stores at a pretty good clip recently — Aldi’s in 2010, GFS Marketplace this year and, assuming the schedule holds, Trader Joe’s next year.

But all those additions have been in the southwest and east parts of town — areas that already have other stores.

So what should we hope for if the Dominick’s space opened up?

Well, the latest dream for foodies, now that Trader Joe’s is on the way, seems to be Mariano’s, the new chain entering the Chicago area from its base in Milwaukee, with two stores on Chicago’s north side, but no suburban location closer than Arlington Heights.

Top: A produce image from the Mariano’s website.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Please come to Evanston, Mariano’s!

    There is a Mariano's near where I work. It is absolutely amazing; a wonderful food store with great prices, huge selection and a host of in-house made hot foods, salads, sushi, bakery, chocolates and huge liquor dept.

    If Mariano's came to Evanston, it would probably put both Dominick's and Jewel out of business, or at least make them raise their game considerably. The contrast between those stores and Mariano's is absolutely striking. And again, Marianos prices are totally competitive with those stores, if not somewhat lower.

    1. if Mariano’s came to Evanston….

      ………..they would put Whole Foods and Trader Joe's out of business.

      Those who shop at Aldi's, Food4Less, and the others would not care until they discovered the prices, of course.  But, as I noted earlier, they are clearly identifying the demographics of their market locations and would probably opt for Eden's Plaza before Dempster-Dodge Plaza. If they were to go out to  Glenview they would certainly give TJ a run for its money.

  2. Food Desert?

    A very well-done analysis.  Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to do the research

    Based only upon the map of store locations I am "shocked" that those Evanstonians up in north-west Evanston are not complaining about their "lack of choices" given they only have Foodstuffs and Dominicks as opposed to those in south and south-east Evanston with a wide variety of options.

    What is interesting, when one considers some of the stores at the south end (Aldis, Food4Less and GFS) is that they appear to be aimed at a lower income population but also, one might guess, at attracting from north and north-east Chicago (there is a Dominick's at the Howard "L", as well) . Of course, you have also excluded any number of fresh fruit-vegetable markets that lurk just over the border in Skokie and Wilmette that now draw a fairly decent clientele from Evanston, as well. Some may even recall that we nearly got one of those at Asbury-Oakton and money was offered for them to move in (yet anotheri n south Evanston, ironically)

    As to Mariano's, I suspect, given that they announced last week a new store in the Lincoln/Park/Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood that, with their other two stores (Western-Belmont) and Loop aiming for both Logan Square/Roscoe Village and Near North/Streeterville, they have a very good idea as to where they might locate if they moved up north and I doubt, sadly, that Dempster-Dodge would make the cut.



    1. Over the border markets


      I chose not to include the markets in Skokie because, in checking Google maps, they all appeared to be a mile or more west of McCormick Boulevard, which means they wouldn't change the "food desert" analysis for west Evanston residents (unless, of course, I forgot about one that's closer).

      — Bill

    2. North Evanston people really lack a grocery

      If you exclude Whole Food you would find people at Sheridan and Central have 1.4 miles to Jewel on Chicago Ave. or 1.5 miles to Dominicks on Greenbay.   North Evanston has been very neglected.

      There may be a full-service grocery in between for example 2900 Crawford and the Dominicks on Greenbay but I did not find one on Google.  These people have more like 2 miles.

      It seems the west side of Evanston has a much better selection than the north or northwest who really get ignored. 

    3. You can prove anything with numbers, I guess

      To define the area west of NU, as in the map as being 23% poverty is a clear example of how numbers can be used to prove anything.  

      In that area probably the only 'poor' are NU students and the retired. Neither would be expected to have large 'income' but that does not mean poor.  NU students get much of their support and needs met by parents.  If you consider the trade-off they are making [of course excluding music, drama, journalism, etc. students],  they can expect [much]  higher incomes when they graduate. Would you likewise consider Peace Corp. workers, or law school students doing volunteer work poor ?

       The retired may not have much income but may and probably do have substantial savings—a $1,500 per month Social Security check may be all they need if they own their home and may have $500,000 + in 401(k), stocks, mutual funds, etc..  Of course not all the retired do, but many may.

    4. Food shopping in Evanston and nearby places

      I visited GFS when it opened and I disagree with truthferret's comment that GFS is among a few stores in that part of town that "appear to be aimed at a lower income population".  GFS Marketplace Stores are described on its website as "serving various customer types such as restaurants, caterers, daycares, schools, churches, families, and more."  When I went in there, it did not have much appeal to a single person household since it sells large containers and quantities of food and related items.  Made me feel the same way as I feel when I have gone to Costco and Sam's Club – emphasis on large size and bundled items but limited to food and food service products. GFS Marketplace has no membership fee. GFS has 150 store locations including places like Palatine and Schaumburg.  I don't think GFS is aimed specifically at "the lower income population."  I have no interest in or relationship to GFS, just felt like truthferret mischaracterized it. 

      In this economy more people are going to want good value for their money when shopping for food, regardless of income level.  My favorite Greek yogurt brand is 50-75 cents cheaper per container at Target than at Whole Foods or Jewel, and Target has a lot of other brands/items I like at great prices,  So I go there now and then to buy food items I like and save money. The produce markets in nearby areas like Skokie have some good selections and prices, and I think it would be great if one of those places came to Evanston.    

      When people are saying they are shocked that all the residents of northwest Evanston have for food shopping is Dominicks and Foodstuffs, I was surprised since I thought there was a Jewel on Green Bay Road in Wilmette very close to that Dominicks on Green Bay Road. Looks convenient to have a Jewel and a Dominicks that close to each other.  It would be nice for the sales taxes if both stores were in Evanston, but I am sure people from Evanston shop at that Green Bay Road Jewel store.

  3. Closing Dominicks Does Not Create A Food Desert

    We are grocery store heavy in Southwest and West Evanston – From Jewel on Howard to Dominicks at Dodge/Dempster, it is 1.5 miles.  In between those two grocery stores we have Target (yes, they now sport quite a large grocery store), GFS, Aldi, Sam's Club, and Food-4-Less.  In a 1.5 mile radius that stretches from Dodge/Howard to Dodge/Dempster, we have SEVEN locations for buying groceries.

    A few facts:

    Dominicks moved into the plaza sometime around 2001 and negotiated a lease that gives them ample power… enough to nix prospective tenants at will.  They don't want a lot of people parking in "their" lot.  

    Frank's Nursery and Craft, a very popular longtime chain plaza tenant, closes their doors in 2004/5 when the company goes broke.

    Dodge/Dempster Plaza cannot attract tenants and is called a blight on the community at City Council meetings.  It is inferred this is due to the neighborhood in which it resides.  Those of us who live in or near this neighborhood are insulted by this derogatory inference.

    Evanston tax-payers are asked for a police outpost to be placed at Dominicks due to their reported higher instances of liquor shrinkage.

    Residents learn about power given to Dominicks in their lease.

    Dominicks refuses to meet with City of Evanston representatives to discuss how we might all work together and still keep Dominicks happy while attracting tenants to the Dodge/Dempster Plaza.


    What is wrong with this picture?  Dominicks refuses to come to the table and discuss how we might alleviate their fears on the parking issue so that we can get a few decent tenants, and yet we are still giving them police protection….

    We should be boycotting them in hopes they do leave… why should residents be interested in keeping a store that can only think of their own well-being?  I understand they need to think about their bottom line, but the power their lease gives them is having the result of my neigborhood being called less than palatable.  We are being labeled with a reputation that is completely untrue and for this, Dominicks, I will no longer shop in your store… for I do not live in a food desert.


    1. you are free to buy your groceries anywhere you choose……..

      ………… but consider that the boycott you propose will not serve to encourage any new store to come into the shopping center once Dominick's leaves. They will also look at those other grocery stores, check out their respective sales figures, check out those for Dominick's and make a decision. There might be a very good chance that they will opt out, i.e., choose not to move in, given declining sales and competition.

      TJ chose to be near other stores because they assume that they offer what the others do not and, like antique shops, they want to cluster near one another on the assumption that people might wander from store to store looking for a specific item.

      Ironically, if Dominck's were doing very well it would be easier to rent out the other stores at Dempster-Dodge based on the increased traffic. It could work the other way as well but who is it that might move in and draw added customers to Dominick's?  Consider that after six months all that the present owner has accomplished is to convince alderpersons to approve a TIF that provides for spiffing up the buildings. Is that the problem at the center and how will that help any other businesses nearby who should also benefit from the TIF?

      By the way, check out the latest item on Evanston Now (Wednesday afternoon) regarding declining property values and revenues from Evanston TIFs. While it does indicate the possible advantage for creating a TIF at the bottom of the market with low property values, that assumes they might rise and also brings into question the projections that have been made even at Dempster-Dodge.

      As to the Dominck's lease, it might not be the best deal for some, but you had a developer who had lost or was near to losing Phar-Mor, Toys'rUs, Office Depot, Frank's, Pizza Hut and others. The west half of the center was nearly empty with no tenants and only Radio Shack along Dodge. They probably were willing to give Dominick's anything they asked for to get them to sign up. As it is, Dominick's was supposed to build a much larger store with a bigger coffee-food area and other features but Safeway came along and bought them up and reduced the size and scope of the store. Who knows if the larger store equal to or larger than the one on Greenbay might not have attracted more volume and then other mall tenants?

      We shop at this Dominick's about as often as the Jewel on Chicago and never at Aldi's, Sam's, Food4Less or Target., but we also use the various fruit-vegetable marts nearby and, on occasion, Mariano's and Trader Joes plus Costco. It is close and serves our purpose. As of now, it is the rest of the shopping center that presents a problem and I doubt that it is because of the Dominick's lease restrictions that no one has moved in.  To a great extent, sadly, "it is the economy, stupid!"

      1. “It is the economy, stupid!”…?

        And what was the issue when the economy was booming and the shopping center was struggling?

        In that I am not proposing a boycott for anyone other than my family, Dominicks will not suffer.  I am following a set of principles that are the basis for which I live life and nothing more.  If a company refuses to meet with our city government (inept though they are at times) with a view toward creating a better situation for all, they will not benefit from me.  Their subtly displayed rancor and outright display of self-interestedness, in my view, is holding up the possibility of progress and success for my city.  

        As for the shopping center itself, if it cannot make it in the neighborhood, perhaps we should consider getting rid of it and putting in some townhouses or the much longed for bowling alley and/or skating rink that I've been hearing about for the past year.

        Incidentally, the trend for Dominicks as a company shows them closing their doors on stores as the leases are running out.  If the trend continues, they will in all likelihood close their doors in 2019 when the lease is up per our City Manager as quoted in the Evanston Roundtable:  "Dominick’s brings an element of uncertainty to the TIF," Mr. Bobkiewicz added. He said he believes there is a pattern of Dominick’s food stores leaving shopping plazas once a lease is up, rather than renewing the lease. Until then, however, the City’s lease with Dominick’s controls in large part what types of tenants can come to the plaza. Dominick’s has said it does not wish to have any tenants that would require intense or long-term parking, such as health clubs, bowling alleys or other family-entertainment businesses.  Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, "The retention of Dominick’s is the most important thing we can focus on."  Mr. Bobkiewicz said, however, that the City has received no meaningful response from Dominick’s. He said even after calling their corporate offices in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, "the response we got was very much a cold shoulder.  (Source:

        You said, "Ironically, if Dominck's were doing very well it would be easier to rent out the other stores at Dempster-Dodge based on the increased traffic."  

        Based on Dominicks lease, I'm wondering what tenants you think they would be agreeable to since we are all in favor of a vibrant shopping center with a lot of traffic.  

  4. I wonder who was on the city

    I wonder who was on the city council and on committees that approved parking-lot control for Dominicks when it entered the west side.

  5. Levy Center offers Mon-Fri

    Levy Center offers Mon-Fri morning pickups in Evanston and then, from the center, makes trips to grocery store for shopping a couple of times a week.  Finally, the bus returns people to their homes.  Membership at the center may be a condition.  This is one more way of access to grocery shopping.

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